OCONEE COUNTY — When people think of good locations for whitewater rafting or river kayaking, Upstate South Carolina probably isn’t one of the first spots to spring to mind.
But for decades, extreme sports enthusiasts from all over the country have been heading down the Chattooga River to take on the Class IV rapids known as “Bull Sluice.”
Bull Sluice has been known to locals for as long as memory serves but only gained serious national attention after it was featured in the 1972 movie Deliverance.
The rapid caps the end of the Chattooga National Wild and Scenic River Water Trail, a 23-mile-long trip spanning from Overflow Creek Bridge on the Western fork of Section one down to the U.S. 76 bridge west of Westminster while cutting through the beautiful scenery of Sumter National Forest.
Forest rangers from Stump House Ranger station in the Andrew Pickens District said that while they couldn’t say how many visitors the rapids attracts each year, Bull Sluice is “one of the more popular areas” in the district.
According to South Carolina Trails, at one time “local paddlers considered it (the trail) the final exam for ‘expert’ status.”
From 1970 to 2003 the US Forest Service reported 39 deaths that occurred on the Chattooga River. Eleven of those deaths — just over 28 percent — happened at Bull Sluice.
As with any body of water, there are always going to be dangers involved when it comes to boating or swimming but the Forest Service has implemented some regulations to promote safety on the water.
Float parties must register at access points and air mattresses, motorized crafts or any other craft deemed “unsuitable” are prohibited. Rafts must have at least two air chambers and each rafter, canoeist and kayaker enjoying the river above Earls Ford must have a lifesaving device available.
Kayakers paddling below the area known as Woodall Shoals are required to wear helmets.
Elite kayakers and rafters aside, the Chattooga River itself it unique in that it offers recreation for people of all skill levels. Several sections of the river are considered calm enough for beginners and there are many sandy beach areas suitable for swimming.
If the idea of shooting the rapids yourself sounds intimidating or just isn’t your cup of tea, Bull Sluice is still an easy hike from the parking lot on U.S. 76 near the South Carolina/Georgia state line. From the trail there are several prime locations to watch the paddlers test their mettle against the river.
Reach Kasie Strickland at 864-855-0355.